Proteins are compounds made up of building blocks called “amino acids.” There are about 20 common amino acids. Nine of them are called “essential” because the body is unable make them, and so they must be supplied by the food you eat. If your diet does not contain enough of these essential amino acids, you will suffer the negative effects of protein deficiency.
Is it complete?
Foods that provide all of the essential amino acids are called “complete proteins." These complete protein foods generally come from animal sources. Plant foods do not, as a rule, have complete proteins, but by eating combinations of plant foods, called “complementary proteins,” you can obtain a complete protein.
For example, when you eat refried beans with rice, such as is often found in Mexican cuisine, you are obtaining a complete protein. The beans and rice complement each other, since each has some of the essential amino acids and when eaten together, you will have all of the essential amino acids.
Here is a list of proteins that when eaten together become complete.
Grains... with Dairy
Nuts/Seeds... with Dairy
Nuts/Seeds... with Legumes
Dairy... with Nuts/Seeds and Legumes
Legumes... with Nuts
Legumes... with Grains
Legumes... with Seeds
Legumes... with Dairy
Here are some recipe ideas that combine the above-listed foods:
Vegetarians and particularly, vegans need to be aware of the importance of the essential amino acids and getting complete proteins. Click on this link to learn more about vegetarian nutrition.
What does a serving of meatless protein look like?
For meatless protein sources, a serving, which is 1 large egg, 1/2 cup cooked beans or rice, or 2 Tablespoons of seeds, nuts or peanut butter, is equivalent to only about 1/3 of the protein in a serving of meat. Tofu is also in this group with a serving size of about 4 oz.